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Declined 2017 fifth-year options could find themselves on the Patriots’ trade radar

Related: The Patriots’ haul from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade is finally official

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

As part of a new collective bargaining agreement, the NFL introduced the rookie wage scale back in 2011. Not only did it create a clear outline for how rookie contracts are to be structured — thus creating a more competitive market for higher picks — it also introduced the so-called fifth-year option to give teams the ability to add another comparatively inexpensive season to the standard four-year deals signed by first-round draft selections.

The fifth-year option essentially works as follows. A team picks a player in the first round of the draft, and subsequently signs him to a four-year contract. After completion of his third season, however, the club can make a decision: exercising the fifth-year option and adding one year to the deal on a significantly increased salary (but still below top-market value), or declining it and making the player an unrestricted free agency following Year Four.

The New England Patriots have taken advantage of the fifth-year option four times in the past. They used it on offensive tackle Nate Solder (drafted in 2011), linebackers Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower (2012), and wide receiver Brandin Cooks (2014). Likewise, they declined to exercise it on the contract of Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton and Phillip Dorsett (all 2015), while never getting in a position to do so with Dominique Easley (2014).

When it came to the 2017 first-round class, which saw the deadline to pick up the option come and go earlier this week, the Patriots did not have to make a decision: the team did not own a pick in Round One that year after having traded it to the New Orleans Saints to acquire the aforementioned Brandin Cooks. The Saints, meanwhile, did exercise the option on the player brought aboard with New England’s former pick, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk.

Ramczyk is one of 18 players who saw their contract options for the 2021 season get picked up by their respective teams:

1-1 DE Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns); 1-6 S Jamal Adams (New York Jets); 1-7 WR Mike Williams (Los Angeles Chargers); 1-8 RB Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers); 1-10 QB Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs); 1-11 CB Marshon Lattimore (New Orleans Saints); 1-12 QB Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans); 1-14 DE Derek Barnett (Philadelphia Eagles); 1-16 CB Marlon Humphrey (Baltimore Ravens); 1-17 DE Jonathan Allen (Washington Redskins); 1-18 CB Adoree’ Jackson (Tennessee Titans); 1-19 O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); 1-23 TE Evan Engram (New York Giants); 1-25 S Jabrill Peppers (New York Giants); 1-27 Tre’Davious White (Buffalo Bills); 1-29 TE David Njoku (Cleveland Browns); 1-30 LB T.J. Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers); 1-32 OT Ryan Ramczyk (New Orleans Saints)

Considering that 32 players got selected in the first round three years ago, this also means that 14 of them did not see their options exercised and that they will hit free agency next spring barring any contract extensions signed up until that point. The assumption can still be made, however, that those players are not necessarily in their teams’ long-term plans beyond 2020 — and this is where the Patriots come back into the equation again.

New England is always looking for value where others may not necessarily see it, and never afraid of pulling the trigger on a trade. Accordingly, some of the following 13 players — defensive end Taco Charlton (1-28) was released by the Dallas Cowboys last season and is now with the Chiefs — could find themselves on the Patriots’ trade radar:

1-2 QB Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago Bears); 1-3 DE Solomon Thomas (San Francisco 49ers); 1-3 RB Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville Jaguars); 1-5 WR Corey Davis (Tennessee Titans); 1-9 WR John Ross (Cincinnati Bengals); 1-13 LB Haason Reddick (Arizona Cardinals); 1-15 S Malik Hooker (Indianapolis Colts); 1-20 OT Garett Bolles (Denver Broncos); 1-21 LB Jarrad Davis (Detroit Lions); 1-22 DE Charles Harris (Atlanta Falcons); 1-24 CB Gareon Conley (Houston Texans); 1-26 DE Takkarist McKinley (Atlanta Falcons); 1-31 LB Reuben Foster (Washington Redskins)

This list features some big names, but not all of them are realistic candidates to be targeted via trade from the Patriots’ perspective. Mitchell Trubisky has shown little that he could be anything more than a backup, for example, and would possibly not even make the team’s roster over Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Likewise, players such as Leonard Fournette, Malik Hooker or Gareon Conley would not address any needs at the current time given the positions they are playing.

A few names do stand out from the other players listed, though. Wide receivers Corey Davis and John Ross would add tremendous speed and potential big play ability to a Patriots offense that lacked both in 2019; linebackers Haason Reddick and Jarrad Davis has had some success as situational downhill defenders; edge players Solomon Thomas and Takkarist McKinley have had their moments when rushing the quarterback.

All of them would be reclamation projects, if nothing else, but could benefit from a change of scenery and from playing in a different system. They could therefore find themselves on the Patriots’ radar in a possible exchange for a low-level draft pick at one point between now and — more realistically — the NFL’s trade deadline in late October. The odds may be against New England actually making a move for any of those 13 players regardless of position, but it would still not be entirely out of character.